In the seemingly inherent tendency to perceive the world through the lens of categorizations, we easily fall into the trap of dichotomies. One foundational and seemingly omnipresent dichotomy is what is called the explorationexploitation trade-off. From the mundane and the everyday (new restaurant or the tried or true)  to the complicated and proverbial “fork-in-the-road” (change of career or remain in the same job), we always seem to be faced with the either-or choice of exploration or exploitation. But what does it mean to explore and exploit? When is it better to do one or the other? 

At its core, exploration is acknowledgment of the universe of possibilities, whereas exploitation is limiting oneself to the world of probabilities.  Explorations require awareness of the power of uncertainty and contingency, whereas exploitation has the trappings  of certainty and predictability. The outcomes during exploitation are distributed normally, whereas the power-law or the log-normal are the appropriate descriptive distributions during explorations. When exploiting, consequences resemble their causes, however during explorations effects can be unrecognizable from their causes. Explorations are an exercise in question finding, whereas exploitation is solution seeking. Exploitation is focused on the center with an eye to the boundaries, explorations are at the edge and look to the horizon.  The tool of choice to explore is a compass, but a map is required to exploit. During exploitations, deduction from first principles is enough, whereas explorations require induction and deduction. Exploration has the allure of novelty and the volatility of ambition, and exploitation is comfortable and familiar and is associated with the serenity of contentment. 

Change in the natural world can be modeled by exploration-exploitation dichotomy. As Stephen J. Gould discovered and described in the theory of punctuated equilibrium, long periods of incremental change are punctuated by bursts of transformation change. It is exploitation that drives incremental change but evolutionary transitions occur through uncommonly successful outcomes of explorative processes. The evolutionary biologist Leslie Orgel said, “evolution is cleverer than you are.” In acknowledgment of the wisdom in nature, this space of essays is my personal attempt at exploring my unknowns in search of transformation. As Will Durant so eloquently stated,  “the only real revolution is in the enlightenment of the mind and the improvement of character, the only real emancipation is individual.”